Westbrook, Harriet

BORN 1 Aug 1795 - DIED 9 Dec 1816, London
CAUSE OF DEATH suicide by drowning
GRAVE LOCATION London: St. Mary on Paddington Green Churchyard, Paddington Green, Paddington (churchyard)

First wife of Percy Bysshe Shelley. they met in January, 1815 and he eloped with her to Scotland on 25 August 1811. He married her three days later, against the wishes of his father. She was sixteen at the time and would bear him two children, Ianthe (1813) and Charles (1814). In March 1814 they were remarried in church in England, to prevent Ianthe from being illegetimate under English law.

But relations between the two worsened and Shelley fell in love with William Godwin's daughter Mary. They were far away at the Continent by the time Harried gave birth to Charles.

Harriet returned to her father and in 1816 she took lodgings under the name of Harriet Smith. She had a lover now, an officer based at Chelsea Barracks, by whom she became pregnant before she moved to Hans Place, Knightsbridge.

It was probably on 9 December 1816 that she walked to Hyde Park and drowned herself in the Serpentine river (or possibly the old reservoir in the park). Certain is that on 10 December 1816 her body was found in the park near the Serpentine. She was identified as Harriet Smith and the verdict was "found drowned". The Times, however, wrote that a respectable lady, far advanced in pregnancy, had committed suicide". At the time she lived in lodgings in Queen Street.

Strangely William Godwin noted in his diary that she was dead on the day she was last seen, although her body was found only a month later. He might have murdered Harriet to enable Shelley to marry Mary, but in her last letter to her sister Eliza, Harriet made it clear that she was planning to kill herself and perhaps Godwin knew.

In 1817 the Westbrooks started a legal procedure to take the custody for the children away from Shelley. Lord Chancellor Eldon proved them right and Shelley was no longer allowed to see his children.

• Husband: Shelley, Percy Bysshe (1811-1816, Edinburgh)

Related persons
• met Shelley, Mary

25/8/1811Percy Bysshe Shelley elopes with Harriet Westbrook [Shelley, Percy Bysshe]
28/8/1811Perct Bysshe Shelley marries Harriet Westbrook in Edinburgh. They had met in December 1810. Harriet was a pupil at the same boarding school as Shelley's sisters. Their romance was encouraged by Harriet's sister Eliza. On 25 August 1811 Shelley left for Edinburgh with sixteen-year old Harriet and they were married three days later. They had no permission from their fathers and their allowances were cut. [Shelley, Percy Bysshe]
0/10/1811Thomas Jefferson tries to seduce Harriet Shelley. Harriet had married Percy Bysshe Shelley in August. Hogg visited her in York at the time Shelley was in Sussex. Harriet rejected Hogg. [Hogg, Thomas Jefferson][Shelley, Percy Bysshe]
11/11/1812Mary Godwin is in the same house as Shelley and Harriet. Shelley, his wife Harriet and Harriet's sister Eliza dined with the Godwins that night. But Mary was tired and she probably remained upstairs. [Shelley, Mary][Shelley, Percy Bysshe]
22/3/1814Shelley marries Harriet Westbrook again. They had first married in Edinburgh and at the time Harriet was a minor and she hadn't received permission from her father. But their relations were already strained at the time. [Shelley, Percy Bysshe]
0/7/1814Shelley takes laudanum after Mary refuses to see him. Shelley had written to his wife Harriet that he loved Mary Godwin. Harriet came to London and visited Godwin. Under pressure Mary promised to meet Shelley no more. But Shelley turned hysteric and he appeared with guns, laudanum and suicide threats. They managed to calm him down, but soon afterwards he took a huge dose of laudanum. Godwin hurried to his lodgings where he found Shelley and a docter. Shelley survived, but his friend Thomas Peacock hardly recognized him when he saw him. [Shelley, Mary][Shelley, Percy Bysshe]
30/11/1814Charles, the son of Shelley and Harriet Westbrook is born. At that time Shelley had left Harriet and had eloped with Mary Godwin. [Shelley, Mary][Shelley, Percy Bysshe]
8/1/1817The Westbrook family starts a legal procedure for the custody of Percy Bysshe Shelley's children. He had left his wife Harriet Westbrook and she had committed suicide. [Shelley, Percy Bysshe]

• Blunden, Edmund, Shelley, Collins, London, 1946
• Holmes, Richard, Shelley, The Pursuit, Penguin Books, London, 1987
• Raymond, Ernest, Two Gentlemen of Rome,, The Story of Keats and Shelley, Cassell & Company, London, 1952
• Roe, Ivan, Shelley: The Last Phase, Hutchinson & Co, London, 1955
• St Clair, William, The Godwins and the Shelleys, Faber and Faber, London, 1990
• Tomalin, Claire, Shelley and his World, Thames and Hudson, London, 1980

Westerman, Gerardus Frederik

Published: 01 Jan 2006
Last update: 19 Mar 2024